Category Archives: satisfaction

On Getting Over Ourselves…..

Clearly it’s a Carolyn love-fest! This letter/chat topic is old (from 2003) but too good, and too important, I think, to pass up. I sort of want to scorn this person for being so crazed, but I can’t, because s/he is nothing more than an exaggerated version of myself. I’m not “disgusted” with my life, nor am I “berating” myself, but still…the shoe fits, kind of. Graduation is in 4 weeks and suddenly we’re all sort of panicking about what comes next. What if I don’t achieve all the things I thought I would? What if I fail everyone by living a perfectly pleasant, decent, mediocre life, belying my Illinois Wesleyan/University of Michigan/Welzenbach/English honor society heritage of excellence???? Oh the horrors!

Carolyn’s advice makes me feel like it’s ok to sit and take a breath and look around, be thankful, happy, and content–even if it means I (we all) stop trying so hard for five minutes. Ahhhh.

Somewhere in Northern Virginia: Hi Carolyn! I’m an avid reader of your column, but I’ve always been afraid to submit a question–until now–and only because I’m at such a total loss. Over the past six months, I’ve been feeling completely and utterly disgusted about my life. Essentially, I have always been very driven and ambitious, usually just to appear “together” and perfect. I’m almost 24. I’ve held a lot of glamour jobs, but I’ve yet to find something I’m truly passionate about. I keep berating myself for not having achieved enough. For instance, I promised myself I’d write my first novel by 21. Haven’t done it. I think about this constantly and beat myself up over it. I have a job at a well-respected media outlet, which people always think is awesome, but I feel stuck in a rut and I’m not making the most of the experience. I’ve lost all motivation, and I feel totally confused. My friends are off applying to grad schools and getting promotions, and I feel stagnant. Moreover, lately I have been taking this out on my boyfriend: I’ve been trying to run his life (researching grad school options for him, etc.) instead of focusing on mine, which I feel is a total mess. I was always proud of myself up until recently, and I have no clue how to emerge from this. Sorry for the long post, but I do hope you can get to it today online. Thanks so much.

Carolyn Hax: Afraid I’ll bite you? Just don’t be completely self-absorbed, and I won’t.

Actually, you’re cutting the self-absorbed thing a little close with your quest for the -est (smartest, brightest, richest, successfulest), but we’ll call it appearance absorption and give it a pass, since you’re only hurting yourself. In fact, I think your disgust should be redirected toward that–your need to flog yourself for absolutely no reason. Repeat, absolutely no reason.

You are not even 24. Some people don’t find their passions till they’re 60. Some people never find them, and eke out pretty decent lives for themselves. They work hard, at whatever, as long as it’s toward the greater good, and they pay their taxes, and they’re nice to the people who love them, and they take pleasure in whatever small things they take pleasure in.

So my advice is to relax, work hard at whatever you work at, and love the people who love you, and seek out some pleasure in life.

And if you can’t put yourself into that mold because you think you’re too good for it, then I will bite you.

I’m not surprised that many of us find our way INTO these positions….17-20 years of pushing, pushing, pushing at school, sports, drama, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, etc. can lead us to believe that if we’re not always striving to be faster, better, fastest, best, that we’re somehow selling ourselves short and failing everyone who ever believed in us. But if we don’t find a way OUT of this thinking, we’re only punishing ourselves. A roof over the head? Food on the table? Loving relationships? A sunny day? A cat wending its way between your feet? A good book? Your health, that of your family? It’s easy to forget how valuable these things are. Life is good. Life goes on. Thank God.

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If you want to be happy for the rest of your life….

Alexandria, Va.: Dear Carolyn,

People always say that you have to make yourself happy. What goes into that? How does one make themself happy?

Thanks! Love your chats!

Carolyn Hax: Short description of a long process: Figure out the things that make you feel confident/fulfilled/energized; that give you a sense of purpose or accomplishment; that tap into your natural abilities and strengths; and that -don’t- put you at the mercy of any one person, and orient your life around those.

Often, this requires another step–concurrently or as a precursor–of reducing the role in your life of things that make you feel worthless/empty/exhausted; that require skills that don’t come naturally; that feel like a waste of time; or that put you routinely at the mercy of others.

Carolyn’s not pretending this is an easy, linear thing to do….but I like the way she put it and the words she uses to describe why certain things make us feel good, and why others exhaust us. Existing largely at the mercy of others and using most or all skills that don’t come naturally to us can chip away at satisfaction over time. When I (and she) say “skills that don’t come naturally”, we don’t mean (if I can presume to speak for her) that we don’t want challenges in our lives, but there are some things that will always be more grating/exhausting than others, tasks that require constant energy, effort, or even restrataint, and when they make up the majority of our daily tasks, it can really eat away at your confidence and security that there are other things you are just good at.